Q: It's disheartening to hear the Pens are suspending talks with Marian Hossa. You've said on several occasions that you don't expect Hossa to re-sign, but I was really hoping he would and thought there was a chance he'd be back, with Ryan Malone likely gone. Now I think there's little to no shot of him returning. Have your thoughts on the matter changed?
Kevin Jacobsen, Canonsburg
MOLINARI: Just to be clear, it was Hossa, not the Penguins, who is responsible for the suspension of their contract negotiations, since that happened after Hossa informed the team over the weekend of his desire to explore free agency July 1.
When Hossa told reporters after the Penguins' Stanley Cup run that he would consider re-signing for less money than he could get on the open market, there seemed to be at least an outside chance that he would stay. (Then again, Hossa never specified how much less he would be willing to take and, according to general manager Ray Shero, never said anything to him about offering a discount.)
Unless Hossa reverses his decision -- and there's absolutely no reason to believe that will happen -- it's pretty much unthinkable that he will come back to the Penguins, for several reasons. First, it seems fairly obvious that maximizing his earnings is his top priority, and some team is sure to propose a deal worth more than the roughly $7 million the Penguins are willing to give him. Hossa is a world-class talent who plays an excellent two-way game, and is the marquee player in a generally lackluster list of free-agent forwards, so there likely will be some serious bidding for his services.
What's more, Shero has a lot of players about whom he must make decisions, and every one of those guys that he signs will take a little more out of the pool of money available to use in a contract for Hossa. If Shero holds on to enough of the supporting cast that helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup final -- while leaving salary-cap space to cover new deals for younger guys like Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal -- there simply might not be enough money left for Hossa even if, after investigating free agency, he'd decide the Penguins' proposal looks pretty good after all.
It would be irresponsible for Shero to put other personnel moves on hold, just so he could set aside enough money and cap space on the off-chance Hossa decides he would like to stick with the Penguins. While Hossa played an enormous part in the Penguins' postseason success and the team isn't going to find a winger of his caliber on the free-agent market (there aren't any, and if there were, they presumably would cost as much as Hossa), a team doesn't have to have its lineup assembled by early July. What the Penguins' roster looks like after next winter's trade deadline is a lot more important than what it will look like on Independence Day.
Q: What's with Ryan Malone? Is he now resentful toward the Pens because he feels that everybody is unreasonably expecting him to give a hometown discount? If he is going to leave, which will come July 1, he should at least allow the Pens to trade him so that they can get something in return.
Tom Whitehair, Middletown, Del.
MOLINARI: Malone can't stop the Penguins from trading his rights, but logic can. While reports out of Columbus last week suggested the Blue Jackets were prepared to make a significant offer for those rights -- possibly parting with a second-round draft choice -- there's no way general manager Scott Howson (or any other executive who didn't check his senses at the office door) would give up any asset in exchange for negotiating rights unless he had a strong assurance that the player in question actually would sign with his club.
In Malone's case, he wasn't prepared to offer any such guarantee. He has earned the right to see what he can get as an unrestricted free agent -- a decision that likely will make his accountant very happy -- and the Penguins do not begrudge him that. Frankly, it's entirely possible that Malone would be willing to re-sign with the Penguins for a bit less than he's likely to get on the open market, but indications are that the gap in those numbers is considerable, more than $1 million per season.
Penguins officials aren't taking Malone's decision to test free agency personally and those who contend Malone has some sort of obligation to the team don't seem to recognize that both sides are simply making a business decision. The Penguins are willing to offer Malone a certain amount of money, Malone wants to see if he can get more elsewhere.
Those who believe Malone "owes" it to the Penguins to allow them to get something for his rights -- even if that entails deceiving another club that has a genuine interest in signing him -- should remember that loyalty is supposed to go both ways. And that the Penguins are almost certainly going to allow some free agents who gave everything they had for this team to walk without extending a contract offer that has a realistic chance of being accepted.
It's not because Shero and his staff don't recognize what those players contributed, but because running an NHL team is a business, and difficult decisions often must be made, especially in the salary-cap era.
Q: Do you think there will be interest in Jaromir Jagr from many teams? My thinking is yes, with his ability to thrive in the post-season and his 25-goal season.
Mohit Sharma, Milton, Ontario
MOLINARI: Jagr, who has a standing offer to play in Russia's new Continental Hockey League, clearly prefers to stay in New York, but the Rangers have been non-committal about how far they will go to bring him back.
If New York doesn't re-sign him, Jagr -- whose exceptional work during the playoffs came in the wake of a lackluster regular season -- apparently will at least consider offers from other NHL clubs, but it's far from certain any will be willing to give him enough money to get his name on a contract.
The twist in all of this is the opportunity to return to the Russian city of Omsk, where Jagr played during the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 NHL season. Jagr has made no secret of how much he enjoyed playing there, but Rangers-watchers note that his girlfriend has made it known that she would rather live in Manhattan than Siberia.